AUSTIN, Texas—The annual SpiceWorld conference here, known mostly for costumed users, orange dinosaurs and wacky events took an unexpected turn. Actually more than one. Not only did the company get a new CEO while keeping the old one, the company known for giving away its products for free has now started giving away services for free as well.
One service that has been around for a while, the Spiceworks Help Desk, added a cloud-based version last year, but the cloud version cost $10 per month per user.
The cloud version of the Help Desk turned out to be very popular, especially in organizations that didn’t have the resources to implement an internal server- based help desk system in the data center.
But there was one problem that nobody had anticipated. For some organizations, such as non-profits or local governments, even the $10 monthly fee was too much, and in some cases IT managers were paying for the cloud- based software out of their own pocket.
So Spiceworks did what apparently only that company can do, and decided that the cloud-based version of the Help Desk would be free. Then, the company decided to refund all of the money the early customers had paid, including all of the taxes.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” said Nicole Tanzillo, who is in charge of the Spiceworks Help Desk project. Tanzillo said that by making the product free, the user base expanded dramatically, bringing in many new customers, rather than simply transferring customers from their original server-based help desk installations to the cloud version.
So how does Spiceworks make enough money to stay in business while giving away products for free? The answer is they sell ads with their online software and earn commissions on IT partnership deals.
Then Spiceworks went a step further and created an IT Pro Concierge Service. In case you’re wondering what an IT Pro Concierge Service is (as I was), the answer is that they help IT people do things.
There does not appear to be an actual limit on the sort of things an IT person can ask for concierge help with, although John Eitel director of Spiceworks' concierge team, said that they are better at some things than others, but that they will try to find a way to help no matter what the request.
Eitel said that the company expects most of the concierge requests to be calls for help from overwhelmed IT staffs that need to do something but can’t because they’re resource constrained. He said that in one case the concierge staff helped a small IT department near Dallas find a firm that would provide resource augmentation so they could take on some additional duties involving compliance.
One of the reasons that Spiceworks can offer a service that helps IT managers find help or expertise is because the company maintains an extensive network of users that communicate with each other in a sort of work IT-focused social network.